Posted by: Bill Shaner | July 1, 2009

The Danger of Flickr

I’m not sure what photo blog I first read it on, but was reminded this morning when scanning John Harrington’s  Photo Business News & Forum about the dangers of websites like Flickr.

Danger you say? Flickr? How is Flickr dangerous???

The danger of Flickr or for that matter any website where you might upload images for public viewing is the danger of those images being stolen or used without your permission.

The short version of Harrington’s post is that recently, a freelance journalist, wrote an article for the venerable New York Times and pointed out that she goes to Flickr and if she likes an image and it’s downloadable in size she can use she will print it and hang it in her home. In her mind she could do that with any image (not just Flickr) because she basically wasn’t making any money on it and was just using it for her own personal use. She goes on to say that everyone should do the same thing. Basically she was advocating the potential violation of copyright or at least the Creative Commons Licenses found on Flickr.

Harrington follows up with a post on Sunday where the New York Times responds to questions about how they could condone one of their writers, albeit a freelancer, suggesting copyright infringement. Read the article to see how the Times wiggles through all of this.

The outrage from photographers about this is what you would expect so I’m not going to go through all of those comments.

Courtesy of Lscan (Bill Shaner Photography)Both posts however highlight the fact that once you upload an image to the web you risk someone using your images without your permission and potentially for something you don’t want. Case in point is a shot I have of a package of Cracker Jacks. When I do a reverse search on this image it appears all over the place from get rich quick websites to blogs written by moms about their kids favorite foods. Not once has anyone ever asked permission to use this image.

I have two choices… I can hunt the people who use my images without my permission, send them cease and desist letters 0r emails, and then potentially take them to court should they not comply. Mind you I would have to pay for all of this out of my own pocket in time, dollars, or both. The other option is I can make my images less attractive to those who might “steal” them and just live with the fact that given the time and effort someone will find a way to get an image with or without my permission.

My current chosen technique for making shots less attractive for stealing are to always upload images that are at less then desirable sizes and dpi’s. For example a shot that is only 1024 pixels wide and 72 dpi. I also add my name to the image. Yeah someone could just lop my name off of it but in most cases I don’t figure people will spend the time. Neither of these techniques stops someone especially a web page developer/blogger from bogarting an image but at least it makes it less attractive to, “Download, print, frame!”

The thing is that with technology copyright and creative commons are going to become more and more difficult to enforce. That’s not to say we should stop trying but at the same time, as photographers, we have to be aware that once we upload our work to the web it becomes fair game with or without copyright and/or creative commons licenses.



  1. Photographer Thomas Hawk – whom I’ve mentioned on this blog before – actually sticks up for the NYT reporter. Read his interesting “life is too short” argument here:

  2. Do you still have the link for the reverse search of your images? This is something I’ve been accutely aware of – since most of the images I post on flickr are of children (especially my own!)

  3. Stacy – try

  4. I’ll add that you can also check Big Huge Lab’s DNA which has an “ego search” at the bottom of it. They have handy links to a handful of the major search engines which will do a reverse search of people who link to your image from their page.

    You can also spend quality time looking at the referer list on your flickr page.

    Actually this sounds like a decent follow up post! Look for it soon!!

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